- Contributed by
- People in story:
- George Tate; Connie Tate; Admiral The Right Honourable Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunlett Ernle-Earl Drax
- Location of story:
- Liverpool, England; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Atlantic Ocean
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 May 2005
George & Connie Tate on their Wedding Day 16th December, 1943
In 1940 when I was on my way to Chatham, after enlisting with the Royal Navy I met another George, George Nesbitt. I owe my life to him and we have remained friends ever since. We keep in touch regularly, these days by phone.
During the war I served as a Yeoman on the Convoy ships that travelled to and from Britain. I served under 3 admirals: Admiral Sir Arthur Davies; Commodore JCK Dowling (Commander of the ill-fated Russian convoy) and Admiral Drax. I was their Yeoman of Signals, in their duty as Commodores of the Convoys. I was a highly trained signal operator with a staff of six, having responsibility for communi-cating with the escort ships. The Admiral chose the ship that best served his purpose, that is the one with the best facilities on board such as signal equipment, accommodation and radio staff.
On the 27th October, 1940 on our way to Canada the MV ALFRED JONES was bombed 250 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. The bomb blew the bows out of the ship. At the time I was helping a boy who was on his first trip, the blast blew me off my feet and I crawled into a corner to avoid the bullets. My friend George appeared saying " Haway man, the bloody ship's going down" - sadly the boy was already dead. We were rescued by the "CITY OF EXETER" and when the lifeboats were being winched aboard the Admiral discovered he had lost his cap! We were told to rescue it and were lowered back into the Atlantic Ocean to chase the cap. After being rescued we were taken to the West Indies to St Georges in Bermuda. We were there for a month and during that time the locals generously fed us.
From Bermuda we went to New York, Boston and then to Halifax in Nova Scotia. We returned to England in a slow convoy and were stopped many times because the "Bismark" was loose in the Atlantic. When the "Bismark" was sunk I remember a terrible storm. Eventually I arrived home two months overdue. When my mother saw me she collapsed since she had been told "I was presumed dead, lost at sea".
My next journey to Canada was on HMS BALTROVER which was full of Jews being taken from the ghettos, to a new life. For the first three days out of Liverpool, the convoy stayed together, when the escorts left, the convoy scattered and went as fast as it could. When George and I were on deck taking exercise, we noticed a young girl with her head down, crying. We asked if we could help; after a few days she told us her sad story. She had been gang raped by Storm Troopers and had seen her entire family killed by machine guns. She was travelling to Canada hoping to meet the only remaining member of her family. She agreed to try and let us know if she managed to meet her relative by giving the "thumbs-up" sign. When the passengers disembarked at Nova Scotia our eyes were glued on the young girl as she left the ship and miracle of miracles, she turned round to face the ship and gave the signal, indicating that she had met her relative.
On one trip in 1943 I received a signal advising of a possible attack and I altered course by 45 degrees. The Admiral was so annoyed that I had acted on my own initiative, instead of awaiting orders that he sent me off the bridge. Later, however, he congratulated me on a swift manoeuvre that had reduced the severity of the losses and asked that I accept his apologies.
While on duty one night, out in the Atlantic, I became aware of something moving just under the surface of the water. Training my signal lamp on the object I was horrified to see an enemy submarine about to attack. I raised the alarm and action was taken to prevent our ship from being torpedoed. As a result I was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal but refused the invitation to attend the award ceremony at Buckingham Palace in November 1945, since Connie was enduring a very difficult pregnancy. She was always disappointed that I was unable to go but was delighted when forty years later, she received an invitation to Buckingham Palace, for her work with TocH and we were able to go together.
It was very difficult for my wife, Connie, she joined the WRNS while her brother had joined the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant in the Lancaster bombers Pathfinder Squadron. Her mother asked her not to serve abroad as she wanted one of her children at home. Connie was based in the Liver Buildings - a very dangerous place to be. While I was on shore leave, Admiral Drax sent for my wife. He shook her hand and putting his arm round her shoulder he told her, "Your husband is helping me to get through this war, I couldn't manage without him".
Given the nature of my war service, Connie never knew where I was or when I was expected home. I had however, a way of letting her know when she could expect me back in port. The Cable & Wireless telegram service was restricted to a choice of three messages out of a long list. I was able to send for example:
No. 9 "letters and parcels received with thanks"
No. 12 "telegram received many thanks"
No. 43 "fondest love and kisses"
Connie could expect my return to be around the 9th December, 1943. We were married eight days later on the 16th December!
Story: This story has been submitted to the People's War Site by Muriel Palmer(volunteer) of Age Concern Shropshire Telford & Wrekin on behalf George TATE (author) and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.